Insulin resistance is the runaway bad guy plaguing female health. The body's attempt to counter these issues by producing more insulin can cause significant imbalances in our hormones, causing the ovaries to produce additional testosterone and making it harder than ever to lose weight, clear our skin or balance our emotions.
We are hearing the term insulin resistance a lot at the moment. Whether you're struggling to lose weight, feel hungry or tired all the time or maybe you just catch every bug known to man – chances are someone at some point has suggested insulin resistance is to blame. But what is insulin resistance?
Before we can answer that question, let’s rewind a step, shall we? What is insulin? Most of us struggle to remember our secondary biology lessons but Diabetes’s UK gives us a really easy explanation. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas which acts a bit like a key allowing glucose (or sugar) into your cells. Your cells then use this for energy. Insulin resistance is a term used when the cells don’t respond so well to the insulin and take-in less glucose. This can lead to higher levels of sugar in the blood and the body tries to compensate by producing extra insulin to try and unlock the cells.
What does that mean for me?
The exact cause of insulin resistance still is not widely understood however there are some common risk factors including:
*Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
*Lack of exercise
Symptoms can include tiredness, hunger, difficultly in loosing weight, getting sick a lot or brain fog. Importantly you don’t need to experience all of these symptoms and many slim women experience insulin resistance as well.
Ultimately insulin is a hormone and aside from concerns around pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes insulin resistance can have a significant unbalancing effect on our bodies. When a person is insulin resistant, they must produce more insulin to keep the cells working properly. High levels of insulin cause the ovaries to produce too much testosterone. This is a key feature in PCOS. Inwardly this imbalance can cause problems with the development of eggs and interrupt ovulation and periods, but outwardly this increase in testosterone can lead to symptoms like acne, dark hair and difficultly in loosing weight. Just like the chicken and the egg, we aren’t quite sure what came first. PCOS or insulin resistance, but we do know that it’s sending our hormones into a frenzy.
What can we do about it?
If you suspect you might be insulin resistant, then the first step is popping along to the GP and asking for a blood test. This can tell you quickly and easily if you are showing markers for insulin resistance.
There are several lifestyle changes that can be made to help manage insulin resistance. Following a low GI diet has been shown to reduce spikes in blood sugar and reduce the bodies need for excessive insulin which therefore reduces excessive production of testosterone. Moderate exercise and physical activity can also help reset the hormonal balance.
Fortunately, there are some key things we can do at home to help improve our sensitivity to insulin:
1. Follow a low GI diet 📉
Did you know that your food has a Glycaemic index? No? Nor do a lot of people and yet it’s a very helpful factor when considering Insulin resistance. It shows us how quickly the food we are eating effects our blood sugar levels and therefore how our body might need to respond in its insulin production. A study in 2003, showed that when following a Low GI diet and healthy lifestyle participants could significantly increase their sensitivity to insulin. Low GI foods include things like wholegrain food, fruit, vegetables and lentils.
However, remember that incorporating Low GI food into your diet should be part of a balanced meal plan. Milk chocolate has a low GI index however if you eat 7 of those a day you won’t find your hormone balance improving much! Be sure to consider fat and protein portions as part of a balanced diet.
2. Get more sleep 💤
A good night sleep is so important for your health. A study in 2010 showed that just one night of sleep deprivation effected participants ability to regulate their blood sugar and made them more insulin resistance in comparison to getting a good eight hours of shut eye. The good news is the same study showed that catching up on those zzz’s may help reverse the effects so try and aim for eight hours quality sleep a night.
3. Up the Resistance 📈
Regular exercise is key to reversing insulin resistance, but did you know that incorporating more resistance training into your regime might be the key to reducing insulin resistance and kick-starting weight loss? A study published early this year showed that three 15-minute sessions a week for six weeks increased insulin sensitivity by 16%. Try adding some of Lucy’s resistance sessions to your next work out.
4. Reduce Stress 🤯
Easier said then done right? Unfortunately, stress causes your body to go into a fight or flight response and throw a few more hormones into the mix. These hormones actually cause your body to raid its sugar stores and release more sugar into the blood as a quick fix energy boost. Try some gentle walking, meditation or listening to relaxing music to help reduce those feelings of stress and bring your hormones back under control.
5. Go Green 💚
A study from 2013 showed that drinking green tea could actually help increase insulin sensitivity. Studies suggest this could be due to an antioxidant found in it called epigallocatechin gallate (try saying that three times quickly). Not only that but the process of sitting and enjoying a hot beverage has been found to reduce stress so that’s bonus points too!
So, whether you know you have a resistance to insulin, or you are looking for lifestyle tips that can help balance your hormones give our top 5 a try. If you think you might be suffering from insulin resistance make an appointment with your GP who will be able to tell with a quick blood test.
Brand-Miller et al (2003). Low-glycaemic index diets in the management of diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Diabetes care. [Online]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12882846
Donga et al, (2010). A signle night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resiatnace in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. Online [Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20371664]
Pape et al, (2019). Effects of resistance training on insulin sensitivity. Online. [Available from: http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/effects-of-resistance-training-on-insulin-sensitivity/]
Liu et al, (2013). Effects of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomised controlled trials. Online. [Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23803878]